Robby Takac of The Goo Goo Dolls
It’s been four years since the last Goo Goo Dolls album but I guess when you’re together for over twenty years, that’s nothing more than a stitch in time. However, the overall writing and recording process for their new album “Something For the Rest of Us” was not exactly their smoothest. The band wrapped up the recording of the album for the first time and handed it off to the label. After the release date was pushed out, the band had the opportunity to go back in and tweak a few things. What started off as a minor edits ended up being a much more thorough process and in the end, the band couldn’t be happier. The extra time allowed them to bring in their live band to record, add some live strings and complete what bassist Robby Takac calls their most organic approach to recording since the early days – albeit unintended.
With a June/July release date for “Something for the Rest of Us” the band finally decided they needed something to get them out of the studio or they’d never stop tweaking things. What could be better than getting out there and sharing the new material with their fans, so that’s just what they did. Playing about five new songs a night the band has been able to get a live response to their latest accomplishments before the album even drops and see what the important critics, their fans, have to say.
Touching on social issues that impact everyone, this album is less introspective and more of an overall look at the world today and the issues that face us all. According to Takac “I don’t think it’s hard to latch on to a sentiment right now that is blanketing the globe.” Indeed it’s not.
We recently caught up with Robby to talk about the new album, the recording process, their current tour, and their current collaboration with USA Harvest.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette
So you had been working on your new album (Something for the Rest of Us), and then decided to hit the road and play a bunch of shows before the album came out. What was the thinking behind that? Was there a specific desire to want to road test some of the new material or were you just missing the road a bit?
I think it was a little bit of both. The primary thing was we just needed to get the hell out of Los Angeles so we would stop working on the record. There’s a release schedule and for it to fall into that release schedule we needed to walk away. We started working with Tim Palmer (producer) in Buffalo and then went to L.A. and kept working there. We finished with Tim and we had a bit of downtime. We went back in and started playing around with the record a little bit and before you knew it we had it all disassembled again. We had a whole bunch of friends of ours in working with us and we brought in our live band to play with us. We ended up remixing it with our sound guy (the guy who works with us every day) and before you knew it we had half of our crew that we’ve been traveling with for the past six years on the record. Everybody was there and the record was essentially finished but nobody knows how the music industry works these days man. You know how it works for The Jonas Brothers, you know how it works for Miley (Cyrus) you know how it works for the hip hop world and there are some models there that are sort of operating but this world that we’re in, there’s no real model anymore. Nobody really knows how it works and there are arguments on both sides but what I do find is that right now we’re out playing songs for people and they’re singing them back to us, whole rooms full of people are singing them back to us before our record even comes out and that can’t be a bad thing. It can’t be. Nothing feels more right than watching a bunch of people say “yeah man, when this comes out, we’re with ya.”
So as far as the new material goes, how many songs have made their way into your current set list? Are you mixing it up each night? How much access are fans getting to that new material?
We rehearsed the whole album already so we know the whole record. We’ve been playing about six songs out on tour and we play about five each night. It’s a pretty good cross-section of songs and we actually open with a new song too. It’s terrifying in one way but in another way it’s pretty satisfying, especially since you can see through social networking mayhem that goes on that people are getting their hands on rough shot camera phone versions of all of these songs.
For your last album you went home (Buffalo) to find your inspiration to write and record and said that that really rejuvenated you as a band, where did you end up working on “Something for the Rest of Us”?
We use to work at this old studio in Buffalo called Trackmaster, we did our first three records there, it was designed by John Storyk who designed Electric Lady and countless classic rock studios. I run a little record label and I’ve had studios in Buffalo for years now that I dabble in. Some dudes have boats – I have a recording studio. The space where we had done our earlier records came available again so John and I decided to revamp the room. We brought John Storyk back in. He doesn’t do a lot of personal designing anymore – he’s running a huge company, but this was one of the first of a dozen studios that he worked on with his company. He flew in and redesigned the room for us so when the last tour finished we set up shop there. We were there on and off for probably six months. I think in our minds we thought we were starting the record. We were going to go all Van Halen on everybody and go in with no songs and come out with a record but what we found is that we’re a band that writes songs so to go in with no songs was probably not the best idea. It got to be a little frustrating as we were working there. We worked there for about 3 months then went back to LA for a couple of months. We’d spend a little bit of time there writing and then we’d go back to Buffalo – we sort of bopped back and forth for awhile until we decided on a producer; who was Tim Palmer. We chose him because in the past we had worked with guys who you kind of give your record to and they make the records with your songs, but Tim’s not that kind of guy. Tim joins your band and sits in on rehearsals, he plays with you and works on the songs and then gets in the studio. There was a lot more of our input than there normally was. We felt like it was up to us to keep our hands on this one a lot more because that’s the kind of producer Tim was. Brad (Fernquist– touring guitar player) was pretty much there for every moment of the sessions which was pretty cool because he had been touring with us for five years so to have him there brought that element of what we actually are when we go out there as a band.
Originally the album was going to be released in fall of 2009, and then the date got pushed back and the band decided to revisit some things…can you tell us what happened there?
We finished with Tim and because of our release schedule the record wasn’t coming out for a few months. Very rarely do you get the luxury as a band to listen to your record and go “man I wish I could have done this” and then actually do it. But because of the way the schedule was we were able to go in and start listening to some things and before we knew it we were knee deep in the record again. All of a sudden we were bringing in some of our old friends. We went over to Rob Cavallo’s house, who produced our last couple of records. We worked with some of his guys for a couple of weeks and ended up cutting a new song. We got a chance to work with Butch Vig who we had been fans of and friends with forever. So, I think what’s ended up happening with this record is that through just fate we’ve ended up with the most organic process of making a record that we’ve had in modern Goo Goo Doll times. We had no choice; it was up to us to make sure this record got pulled together. There was no one to blame but us and I think that’s made for a really pretty honest and potent record.
You mentioned having that option of going back in when the record was done to “tweak” things. You guys really seem to be perfectionists. How much of the album was actually changed and how do you know when to say when and to just walk away?
We booked a tour, that’s how we walked away, that’s exactly what we did. One day we met with our manager and said ‘look, if you don’t get us on the road, we’re going to keep working on this, you know that right?’ Sometimes you can pass the exit on something. I didn’t want to pass the exit and I started to feel like we were getting close. We gained focus at the end but I just didn’t want to go too far. That’s how we knew that we were done, I guess. As soon as we were driving away from where the hard drives were – but that’s not even entirely true either, we ended up recutting an entire song in Nashville while we were out on tour. I don’t know the answer to that really; when you’re done you’re done. How much did we fix? I don’t know, we were knee deep. And fix is maybe the wrong word; I think we just needed to revisit a lot of stuff. There were a lot of things we tried on this record, some technologically, some by just letting go and letting things happen. The other thing was, the way music is done these days with pro-tools, people have the ability to change what you’ve done after the fact. A lot of what we ended up doing was going back to what we did originally before it got futzed with. Sometimes people tend to think they’re doing a lot of good by lining you up and making sure the performance is mathematically correct but I think that strips soul from what you do sometimes. Things speed up and things slow down sometimes but as long as everyone is doing it together, then it’s alright. Once again, we passed the exit a few times. We were able to find the original tracks that we recorded before they got diced up and they sounded good. There was an awful lot of that that happened and the fact that we could go in with our live band and interject what is actually going to be going on a live stage is a huge thing for us as the tour progresses and people hear us play the songs on the record. It’s not about recreating them; it’s just about playing them.
John described this album as carrying on in a storytelling way but telling other peoples stories, do you feel that there’s an overall theme of the album or something that connects all of the songs?
I think that all of our records are just sort of documents of what we’re looking at around us. Sometimes you focus in on the people that are in the room with you and you happen to be involved in that relationship closely and sometimes you just look out your window and see this overarching relationship that is being strained or celebrated. I don’t think it’s hard to latch on to a sentiment right now that is blanketing the globe. I think that from what I’ve heard John say in our private conversations or in the press is there are very few who control an awful lot and they don’t seem to have much regard for those that aren’t controlling it. It’s a scary thing. That’s one of the basic fears in people is that they’re not being looked out for. I think that same relationship can happen between two people sitting in a room. It’s the same feeling and the same fear that people are experience as the whole blanket concept. I think for him to say that he’s writing from other people’s perspectives, I think he does that a lot. It’s hard not to empathize with what’s going on around us unless you’re some kind of robot.
So let’s dig into the songs a little bit. There’s a song called “Tiffany” that has a string section on it is that correct? Was that part of the song from the start or did that evolve later on?
That song is actually called “Not Broken”, it didn’t have a title at first. We had originally cut the strings with samples on the record and then once we started listening it was one of those things where we thought it would really benefit from the human element. The folks that we worked with really captured it. Actually, the first song that we were going to put strings on was “Home”, as we were listening to the rest of the record we thought that “Not Broken” would benefit from live strings.
Is there a song on the album that was most rewarding for you to write and finish and to see it develop?
There’s a song on the album called “Something for the Rest of Us” and it was the very first song that we worked on when we were at the studio in Buffalo. Have you ever worked on something and you started working on it and said “holy shit we’re never going to finish this!” That was the case. I don’t think it’s a single, maybe it is, stranger things have happened, but when I listen to that song it really makes the entire thing come full circle. The weirdest thing is, we started the record in that room in Buffalo and we ended up in seven studios all over the US, and the very last thing we did was sit in the exact same spot where we started the record. That’s sort of what it felt like musically with that song for me. I remember working on it and listening to it and wondering how we were going to do it. The song is pretty somber, and now that’s it’s done it seems a little more optimistic to me.
The band has been together now for over 20 years, but the way it spans out when this album comes out, you’ll have released an album in four different decades. When you look back on it all, how does it hit you and is it still fun for you?
More than anything else in the world I love to play my guitar and I love to look in people’s eyes and feel that magic happen, that’s always fun. The minute that’s not fun, I’ve got trouble, because that’s what I do for fun. I could do that in front of a huge group of people or in front of a small group of people, I love it. The thing that I’m the happiest about is that there are a group of people who have been doing this with us for a long time and supporting us and here we are touring all over again and the same faces come out to see us. It’s been a few years so you never know. It just feels really good to be out there and to see it working and to play new songs. It’s been a really long time, but as I said, you’re moving ahead every day trying to do better, I don’t have time to think about anything else. I’m just glad that I’m so busy that I can’t pay attention. I guess the minute that I have to start looking at it some other way, then once again, I’ve got trouble. Right now I’m happy and everything is going great.
So I heard there’s a way fans can help contribute to a good cause if they come out to shows, can you tell us about that?
We’re working with USA Harvest; we do food drives at all of the shows. There are street teamers out front at each show in green t-shirts and big barrels collecting. We’ve raised about 750K meals since we started working with these folks. So just bring food and whoever brings the most items wins a meet and greet with us.